Friday, June 20, 2008

1948 Siren Sundress: Pattern Review

I just added another notch to my sewing bedpost! I finished my second successful dress, a Decades of Style 1948 Siren Sundress! So now I whisper to the pattern as I tuck it into my stash of finished patterns, "I have taken your Siren Sundress, and our little tryst was a pleasant one. Call if you are ever back in town, I would love to catch up." The Siren Sundress was a good mistress; simple but not boring, mailable to my needs, and the kind of dress that lingered on my mind from our first meeting as I unfolded the tissue pattern until the affair ended with the final seam. She proved a project that required some sewing ingenuity and creative problem solving due to her bodice issues, but now that I have succeed in correcting the challenge, the dress is a great source of pride for me. Who says lovers never change for a relationship?

I love the fabric pattern I used. It is actually an Ikea curtain that I purchased months ago in hopes of using it for more than home decorating. The bold, abstract leaves and the shades of green and blue on white are are unique play on a traditional summer floral. I liked the idea that the pattern serves as a contrast to the vintage style of the dress. Truthfully, now that everything is finished, I have come to realize that a lined dress in upholstery weight linen is just too warm for the San Antonio summer, but even with the pricks of perspiration pricking at my back when I wear it, I still think it looks like a lovely summer BBQ outfit.

Oddly enough, the biggest problem I faced with the dress was a problem I expected before I even began. Combining my full bust figure with the dress bodice was a little bit like entering a doomed relationship bound to fail because of incompatibility, but the chemistry was just too tempting to pass up. I thought I would be able to make it work. Unfortunately, my beginners luck faded, and no matter how long I tried I was never able to successfully redraft the bodice successfully. I spent three weeks of sewing class - mind you that is nine hours total - redrafting the pattern. I sewed three muslins in an attempt to correct the bodice fit. However, on my third redraft I realized that I had ALMOST recreated the original pattern. I was back to square one, plus an awkward extra dart. So I threw my arms up in defeat and resorted to the original tissue pattern. I led myself to believe the problem of the ill fitting bust might magically disappear in the construction of the final garment. Love would conquer all.

Love did not conquer the inevitable fit issues, but I jerry rigged a very suitable alternative, featured below and described in the pattern review even farther below. If you are interesting in the technicalities, read on. However, if you are just interested in admiring my handiwork and ingenuity visually, scroll down for a few more photos.

as posted on

Pattern Description:
The 1948 Siren Sundress is a vintage-style wrap dress with a mock-wrapped bodice, v-neck, and a skirt that overlaps in the rear. The original pattern creates a backless dress (very sexy!), but I like to wear a bra so I modified the pattern for a full back. The dress is held in place with two long straps that function as both the shoulder straps and then wrap around the body to create a waist sash. Overall the dress is a very unique design that is flexible to size, easy to sew, and simple and fun to wear.

Pattern Sizing:
The highlight of this pattern is that it comes in such a variety of sizes, from a 30" inch bust through a 46" bust. I sewed the largest size, designed for a 46" bust, 40" waist, and 49" hips.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing it?
The dress looks very much like the pattern, excluding the modifications I made. However, the straps are not as wide. The pattern came with notation that during the pattern resizing, the Decades of Style owner felt like the straps on her final garment were too wide, so she narrowed them on the pattern. Therefore the straps on my finished garment were narrower than in the patter illustration. However, this can easily be modified and increased when cutting your strap fabric by adding a few more inches.

Were the instructions easy to follow?
The instructions were very clear and easy to follow, including a diagram of each major step. The instructions also come in a 8.5x11 booklet form, rather than as a large multi-folded sheet like most commercial patterns, which I found easy to deal with in the midst of sewing chaos.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
Likes: Most of all, I love that the pattern is available in a variety of sizes!!! All ladies deserve to wear vintage dresses, and this pattern is so egalitarian in its sizing. The garment can also be simply re-sized to accommodate a non-standard body proportion, for example a narrow chest and large hips, or a wide waist and narrow hips.

I found the directions very clear, and overall the dress was very simple to sew. It only involves ten pieces plus the lining, so it is quick and good for an advanced beginner.

I also like that the full skirt is attached at the waist with NO GATHERS, to create very slimming and streamline silhouette. It also means the skirt was easy to attach.

Dislikes: My biggest challenge was that the dress is not well proportioned for a large bust (this is not a new problem for me!). The dress includes one side dart to help the bodice fit a woman's curves, but for me the dart was too shallow to create a form fitting wrap. I was left with excess fabric gaping around my breasts. You can find images of the dress prior to modification on my blog here. I made some changes with the front styling to help create a more form-fitting bodice, and overall I am very pleased with the final product.

Fabric Used:
I used an Ikea Stockholm Blad curtain in Green, made of linen. I used the white curtain lining made of 100% cotton for the dress lining. Overall, I love the large abstract print for the dress, but because the fabric is upholstery weight, it just a little too heavy and thick. I don't think it has the correct texture to drape around the body ideally.

Additionally, I used a very stiff interfacing to line the back of the dress, which ended up being too stiff. Stiff interfacing might still be a good choice for the backless version of the dress, to help give the garment more structure. However, in my modified larger back piece, the interfacing just makes the dress feel like cardboard.

If I make this dress again, I plan to use a lightweight cotton, maybe a period-appropriate novelty print, or something with a more fluid drape. I think it would be beautiful to make this dress in a colored eyelet, with a bright color as the lining, maybe navy eyelet with sunny yellow lining. The skirt would also need lined if sewn using eyelet. On a thin and fit person, this dress would also look hot, and very modern in a cotton jersey knit.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made:
I created a full back using the original back pattern as my guide. Instead of tapering the back to a point at the center base of the back as the original pattern suggests (and the pattern illustration shows), I just extended the line from the armpit out in a straight line parallel to the base of the piece. I made a cut from the original lower corner to my new upper line, and viola, I essentially created a long rectangular piece, (rather than the original triangle). Thus, I was able to overlap each rectangle to create a back suitable for strapless bra coverage.

I increased the length of the shoulder straps/waist sash. I have a 40" waist, and the length offered on the pattern was too short to tie a pretty knot as a finish. I added at least another 18" inches. The garment is a bit unwieldy off the body, because the straps are soooooo long and hard to fold or hang, but they look great on the body.

I also lined the straps, which the pattern does not call for. This was originally a mistake on my part. I cut and sewed the lining before I realized the straps were not intended to be lined. However, it was a happy mistake, because the lining looks nice. One word of caution when lining the straps, however, is that the lining will make the straps more stiff, which makes them ever so slightly more awkward to wrap beautifully. You may want to experiment depending on your material and how ugly the backside of your fabric is.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I dealt with an ill-fitting bodice by sliding a tube of ribbon around each should strap at the base of the strap, just above each breast. By gathering the fabric into a clump here, I was able to corral in in the extra fabric fullness that gaped. The knotting also had the pleasant effect of creating a semi-sweetheart neckline that simultaneously covers more of my breast and still exposes more skin on my chest and shoulders. It is probably not the most elegant solution to my gap-age problem, but a very effective and satisfying solution in line with my experience level.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
I would BOTH sew the dress again and recommend it to other. I think the dress would be particularly stunning in its backless form, and I would love to know if anyone completes this look with sewn-in bust support, and how.

This is a fun dress from a great pattern company. I am very loyal to Decades of Style because of the extended sizing. However if you are a larger gal with a figure that deviates from the proportional B-cup bust that most patterns use as the baseline guide, than you might want to think through some pattern modifications to create a better fit before you start. Surely, there must be some way to dart or tuck the bodice to create a well-fitting faux-wrap. Overall, it is a fun pattern that can be made many times over for easy, breezy, UNIQUE summer dresses.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! Fabulous adaptation! Your wear it well! This dress looks as if it was designed just for your body. Yes, it may have taken a lot of effort, but such a flattering dress would be very difficult to find in RTW. Ah, that's the beauty of sewing for yourself, isn't it?

I just rated your review "very helpful" on PR. Btw, I think it's time you upped yourself to "advanced beginner" at the very least.

Anonymous said...

It is indeed a lovely adaption. I do urge you to consider trying your hand at Xandra's 1950s Sundress pattern (, recommended to you by me at ADaD. I picked (and bought!) that one particularly because: the bodice is offered in multiple sizes, making fitting MUCH easier; it is DESIGNED to be worn WITH A BRA (yay bra! - halterneck bra, but bra!) and the seams themselves curve under in such a way as to support the bust, instead of merely wrapping shut. It also was very nearly a line-for-line copy of the original dress that had prompted your initial inquiry. So again, it is the very last pattern on Page 2 of the 1950s pattern section. As a special bonus, the many seams in the body of the dress make it easy to adjust for personal variations in body contours, too.

Kate said...

It was great advice. I actually bought the dress pattern the very day you recommended it. It is a pretty dress, and I can definitely see how the many seams help make an easier job of modifying the patten for specific body shapes. I plan to mock it up in a muslin very soon.

I have been trying to scale back my difficulty level a bit these past few weeks, because I became so frustrated at my fitting issues and realize part of the problem might be that I am trying to sew at a difficulty level beyond my current skills. I purchased and read the "Fit for Real People" book and purchased a few Palmer/Pletsch patterns last weekend, so I hope to work on them as a technique builder, than move back to sewing my true passion... beautiful dresses. Your advice is very VERY helpful. Thank you so much for dispensing it so generously.

p.s. I think I need to make myself a nice, functional crinoline to help a dress like one you recommended keep its shape. I am a bit too shy for a full blown huge and poofy crinoline, but I would like something to stiffen up a full skirt and give my lower half some volume. Any recommended patterns or techniques?

Samwar said...

Man, who took those photos? They are totally rad! Was that person born with a camera in their hands? No he wasn't, because it was me! And I think my mom would've said something if that was the case.

Anonymous said...

I was just trying to decide whether or not to buy the pattern and was looking for reviews - thank you SO much for your detailed comments! I've decided to go for it, and I'm bookmarking your page, just in case I run into any of the same issue you did.

Anonymous said...

I also was looking at the pattern and contemplating buying it. Thank you for your photos and blog. I'm very glad you've taken the time to do this.

Kate said...

I have a deep and abiding love for Decades of Style patterns. When you make the dress, PLEASE send me some pictures and your interpretation of the pattern. I would love to see your creation.

Alexis said...

You posted this dress awhile ago, but I just have to say that I LOVE it! I bought this pattern (along with fabric) several years ago but never made it because of the back (I need some support). I'll have to give some of your mods a try.